This week I had a turkey spot me and get away before I could get a shot. I researched how turkeys see and the differences that need to be taken into account. As Drake University biologist Muir Eaton explains, “If you assume birds see exactly what we see, you could have the wrong framework for understanding bird behavior.” Here are the factors to understand in order to become a better turkey hunter.
Turkeys are not colorblind. In fact, a turkey has seven different types of photoreceptors, 6 cones and one rod. Humans only have four types, three cones and one rod. This means that turkeys have an incredible ability to see color but little ability to see at night. Thus, turkeys rarely leave the roost before daylight. Interestingly, the additional receptors allow turkeys to pick up UV light waveforms. Essentially, turkeys see very differently than humans.
The fact that a turkey’s eyes are on the sides of their head make them capable of seeing 270º at any time. Humans can only see 180-190º. However, the tradeoff is that binocular or 3D vision is almost non-existent. Because humans’ eyes are placed close together there is a greater amount of overlap for each eye. This allows us to have better depth perception. Instead, turkeys have monocular vision. Turkeys can get some depth perception by bobbing their head back and forth, but it is limited.
Lastly, turkeys are often referred to as having “vision like a hawk.” This is true in some ways but is an exaggeration in others. Both hawks and turkeys can see details very well. Turkeys have estimated 60/20 vision, or they see as well at 60 yards what we see at 20. Additionally, both birds take in visual images much faster than humans. This means they can detect both very fast and very slow movement much better. The biggest difference is that hawks have forward facing eyes that give them much better binocular vision and, as a result, depth perception.
Even though a turkey may not be able to determine your distance well they can detect movement and colors better than you can. Wait for the turkey to be facing away from you before raising you bow or gun. You must change your focus away from scent control as with deer hunting and towards better concealment, you will greatly improve your chances. Thank you for reading. Stu
Stuart Hoegh runs his own guide service, Three Brothers Outdoors, in Bend, Oregon. And has also guided for salmon, trout and pike in Alaska. He has hunted every game animal in Iowa. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org